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AOC, Pressley, Tlaib, and Omar to Shutdown Negotiators: 'Not Another Dollar' for Trump's Anti-Immigrant Agenda

"With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table."

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. (Photo: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez/Instagram)

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled on Thursday that Democrats are willing to offer President Donald Trump funding for border "technology" and "Normandy fencing"—but nothing for his wall—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and three of her progressive colleagues sent a letter urging Democratic negotiators to take a harder line by slashing funding for the agencies at the center of Trump's anti-immigrant agenda.

"These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate—not strategy. We call on our colleagues at the negotiating table to adhere to the following guidelines critical to protecting families and children."
—Letter

Condemning the Trump administration for putting "profits before people and rhetoric before the lives of immigrant children," Ocasio-Cortez joined Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in demanding that Democrats cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

"These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate—not strategy," reads the letter, which was first published on Thursday by The Daily Beast. "With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table."

The letter from House progressives, which is expected to be read on the House floor next week, went public as Trump told reporters on Thursday that he "won't waste [his] time reading" any funding agreement that doesn't include wall money—an indication that he may be willing to shut down the government again when the current stopgap spending measure expires Feb. 15. 

The president also suggested that he is still considering a national emergency declaration to build the wall without congressional  funding.

But even as he repeatedly demanded wall money from Congress, Trump also bizarrely stated, "We have money, just so you understand. We have money, we're building the wall right now. A lot of it. People don't know that, and nobody reports it, but that's ok."

Bipartisan conference committee negotiations on a spending plan that would keep the government open beyond Feb. 15 kicked off this week, but no concrete proposals have yet emerged from the talks.

According to The Daily Beast, "Democratic lawmakers on the conference committee indicated that plenty of options were on the table in talks with Republican counterparts. But decreasing funding for DHS was not one of them. The Democrats' opening bid offers a $589 million increase in the agency's budget from the year before."

With Trump standing firm in his demand for wall money and Democrats continuing to offer fencing and technology that rights groups have denounced as ineffective, immoral, and unconstitutional, progressives celebrated Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Omar for taking a "principled position" beyond merely rejecting the president's outlandish proposal.

"This is exactly the type of leadership we need in Congress," said Gregory Cendana of United We Dream.

Read the House progressives' full letter:

Dear Colleagues,

We write to you today seeking your solidarity and support to enter in to the DHS conference committee process with clear eyes. The next 3 weeks we are tasked with operationalizing our values and addressing the fall out caused by a reckless administration that has put profits before people and rhetoric before the lives of immigrant children.

The Department of Homeland Security is tasked with critical functions. However, under the auspice of the Trump administration, a number of agencies housed at DHS have abused their authority and the fidelity of public resources. There is a documented pattern of agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Patrol overspending and abusing the transfer authority to quietly move funds around. Funds are being reallocated internally not to make our nation safer, but to build desert camps to inhumanely house infants and to prosecute immigrants who are part of the fabric of our community. These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate—not strategy. We call on our colleagues at the negotiating table to adhere to the following guidelines critical to protecting families and children and restoring Americans' faith in government:

Cut, do not increase funding. A Republican controlled Congress has already sharply increased DHS spending without clear justification. We have seen rampant spending on detention facilities for young children—reports indicate DHS is paying for-profit prison companies upwards of $700 a day to house children in inhumane facilities. The deal reached by Conference Committee should not allocate any additional funding to this department or to the ICE and CBP agencies. The upcoming FY2020 budget process will be a critical opportunity to take up conversations about reforms to the agency. In the meantime, not another dollar.

No transfer authority. The Trump administration continues to use DHS funding as a slush fund (through transfers or reprogramming) to increase detention programs and invest in ineffective policies. The conference committee should prohibit transfers and reprogramming authorities.

Stronger accountability. Strong report language is critical to ensuring safeguards to rein in DHS. However, report language is not enough. The final budget package must be accompanied by stringent oversight mechanisms, and critical obligations should be in statutory text not just report language. DHS has a failed track record of missing congressional deadlines, including when recently required to report on deaths in custody. For those reasons, the DHS should be taken up as a separate appropriations bill and accompanied by strong statutory language that saves lives and increases accountability.

As a nation, we need comprehensive immigration reform driven by justice and data. Let us be clear that that process will not play out during the Conference Committee's narrow DHS deliberations. The sole focus of this Conference Committee is to put forward a short term spending package for 7 months. But a budget is a statement of our values. With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table.

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